In his artistic work Sammy Baloji investigates the history of mining in his home city of Lubumbashi, located in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He contrasts the profound destruction of the environment and social structures to the memories and hopes of people in the Katanga region. Key elements of his artistic practice are to encourage collaboration between art producers, activists, and academics as well as bringing together many different kinds of knowledge and production. His invitation to 12 artists in both the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Europe with whom he regularly interacts is a continuation of this development of collective structures that he views as a strategy of resistance to extractivism, an economic model in which raw materials are “extracted” from nature.
The exhibition unfolds along three thematic skeins that are directly related to Sammy Baloji’s works of recent years as well as his current research. “Expropriation of land & the transformation of earth into raw materials” derives from Baloji’s artistic documentation of the extractive industries in the Katanga region, which turn land into resources and view societies merely as a potential labor pool. In works such as Tales of the Copper Cross Garden, he confronts this with memories, hopes, and projects by people who live among the ruins caused by colonialism, industrial mining, and the global capitalist economy. Franck Moka’s Shimoko project, which started with research lasting several months, likewise sheds light on work in the mines in Lubumbashi and the resulting environmental degradation and pollution. Hadassa Ngamba works with minerals such as malachite, Katanga cassiterite, tar and charcoal, and applies them along with coffee to canvas in her piece Cerveau (brain). In his Tshanga Tshanga photo series Georges Senga uses close-up and aerial shots to capture the extractive industries’ impact on the countryside and society in the region around Manono, a town to the north of Lubumbashi.
A central role in Baloji’s work is played by his critical enquiry into the colonial archive: beyond the degrading representations and ethnographical assignations it contains, Baloji searches for traces of the practices and historical experiences that inhabitants of the region devised and passed on through all the radical changes their societies underwent. This “confrontation with the colonial archive and its continuities” comprises the second thematic strand in the exhibition. Sybil Coovi Handemagnon is presenting an installation on the toxicity of colonial collections. Here, toxicity refers both to the chemical residues of insecticides that change the use of objects and also to the enduring toxic impact of the plundering of cultural goods during colonial times. Fundi Mwamba Gustave & Antje Van Wichelen’s experimental horror film follows Dr. Fundi, the filmmaker’s fictitious alter ego, as he searches for an antidote that can curb the metamorphosis of people into monsters which has been triggered by environmental pollution. Isaac Sahani Dato’s multi-media-installation Topos was preceded by lengthy research on colonial maps, the designations of places, the new names given them, and their appropriation by the colonial power in question.
In the works of Nilla Banguna, Julia Tröscher and Jackson Bukasa & Dan Kayeye & Justice Kasongo precarious narrative and pictorial legacies are reinterpreted and appropriated. For example, that of the Kasala, an oral poem that celebrates the history of a person of community by combining genealogical and biographical elements with myths and narratives on the cosmic order of the world, or the paint on the clay walls of the houses in the village of Makwacha, which the women who live there renew each year – “Transmission through Transformation”.
Together, the artists represented in the exhibition continue to develop new forms and cooperations to resist the impact of extractivism. They repair interrupted chains of knowledge, shed light on the consequences of global consumer behavior and economic profit maximization, and place people central stage. The polyphonic nature of the exhibition continues the long-standing work of the artists and art producers in the circle around Sammy Baloji to develop collective structures in Lubumbashi. At the heart of this is the independent Picha platform populated by Congolese artists that, among other things, organizes the Lubumbashi Biennale. The works on display in Kunsthalle Mainz were developed by the artists in the context of these structures (Picha and the Lubumbashi Biennale) or in collaboration with Framer Framed Amsterdam as well as Reconnecting “Objects” and are being shown in Germany for the first time.
The exhibition is based on a concept by Lotte Arndt & Sammy Baloji.
The exhibition in Kunsthalle Mainz is supported by Kultursommer Rheinland-Pfalz, Wallonie-Bruxelles International (WBI), kiosk Vlaanderen, the Bureaux des Arts Plastiques of Institut français & the Kingdom of the Netherlands.